Tag Archives: education

Autodidact curriculum

Some folks, after being plied with a couple of brewskis, might shyly admit to having fantasies of being a star quarterback, a rock god or maybe even royalty. My confession: I fantasize of being a syndicated columnist.

My first hero was Molly Ivins, who unfortunately for the world of words and intelligence has passed on.

But I’ve found someone else I’d like to learn from: Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle.

I love to read him for his wit and intelligence, but I hate to read him because he gets away with so many “illegal” writing conventions that come fairly naturally to me (I am NOT saying I can pull them off as well as he can) but that I am told to drop from my writing because “it is not allowed.”

Similar to how, fifteen years before the Harry Potter phenomenon, I was told by my fifth grade creative writing teacher that I shouldn’t continue my story about the magical girl but should focus on “reality.”

One of Morford’s apparently successful infractions: using second person.

I’ll be writing an essay and I’ll want to build an imaginary scenario for the reader. Without making the conscious decision, I find myself talking to the reader, inviting, suggesting, seducing their imagination to follow me down some rabbit hole where we might get a glimpse of a new world, or at least the old world turned on its head. It works so well to say, “You.” But you’re not supposed to.

And yet week after week he uses this tactic, among many others, to great effect.

Though it’s been a couple of years since I took my last class, still I spent enough years being indoctrinated into the scholarly method that I think I will give myself some study materials to figure out what makes Morford’s writing so damn good. I have a pile of his articles that I will inspect, analyze, but above all, enjoy.

I will be writing at least one follow up blog post to let you know what I’ve discovered.

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49er Fantasy

No, not the football team.  Euw.

The miner kind of 49ers.

I’m from California, and the Gold Rush of 1849 has always been one of my most favorite periods in history.

The other day my daughter and I were watching a documentary of the pioneers and the Gold Rush.  It told the story of a family who went west to seek their fortune.  Usually men went without their wives and children and just hoped to make a bunch of money to bring home, or send for their families later.  But this family took off together.

When they arrived, the lady found that the miners would pay five dollars to have a meal cooked by a woman, which of course was a lot of money back then.  Well, maybe not to a guy who just found a bunch of gold nuggets in a creek and has blown phenomenal amounts of cash on booze and prostitutes.  Five bucks for a “home cooked” meal would be nothing.

But anyway, these miners had gone so long without being fed by their womenfolk, not to mention even seeing a woman up close, that she was greatly appreciated.  So much so that she was able to open a restaurant and make a tidy living off her culinary skills.

Now I know that some people fantasize about being Eddie Van Halen, or Angelina Jolie, or maybe even Bill Gates.  Having fame, fortune and glory is a commonplace desire.  But I haven’t felt as envious of anyone’s life as I felt hearing about this woman feeding all those men, winning their innocent affections and being compensated handsomely.  

I imagine, being her, I would feel like the most beneficent goddess mother, appeasing the boys’ stomachs and comforting their loneliness (she had her husband there, so I’m assuming that she was relatively safe from untoward advances.  Either way, nothing inappropriate figures into this particular fantasy of mine!)  They would adore me, looking up at me with their sad, scruffy, hungry puppy dog faces as I set before them some stew and biscuits still hot from the oven.  It would fill their bellies and warm their hearts and their homesickness wouldn’t sting quite so badly for just those few moments.  After their many months of perilous journeying, miserable gold panning, lousy food and rough male company, just the swishing of my clean skirts as I went to fetch the coffee would be like music to their ears.

Silly, I know.  But if a person’s fantasies reveal their essence, then I am all about food, earning a good living and being an adored mother-figure.  

I can live with that.

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Top Five: Most Beloved Things About School

Okay, since I’ve been fantasizing lately about creating a school, I thought I’d see what people dug about it, from the most down-to-earth to the most sublime aspects.  (If you completely despised school feel free to change it to “Top Five Most Crappy Things About School.”)

If I ever get the chance to start one up, I don’t want to leave out any of the good stuff!

My Top Five Most Beloved Things About School:

1.  chalk and chalkboards 

2. tetherball

3. the stack of new books at the beginning of the year/quarter (for college)

4. those classes (like lit and history) that often had great, intelligent discussions, sometimes venturing dangerously far into passionate argument

5. being in the crowd at a really intense sporting event

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Fantasizing about a school…

All this talk of grounding techniques reminds me of a trick I came up with a couple of years ago to get my worrying mind off the poisonous thoughts of “oh no!” and “what if?”  while I’m trying to get to sleep.  I simply turn my mind loose on the fantasy of a school.

Okay, you already knew I was weird.  No sense accusing me of it now.

A school for homeschoolers.

Essentially, a place to gather with others interested in the same subject or to work independently.  A place of resources, mentors and a culture of learning.  A place where the adults want to learn as well.  A place of no grades or tests.  A place where there is a program in place to graduate if that is the path you choose, if your dream is to become a doctor or some other career that requires going to a university.  But instead of being driven by governmental edicts, learning will be fueled by interest, curiosity, will, passion.  Instead of being treated like miserable little factory workers or, dare I say, untrustworthy prisoners, students will be respected as thinking individuals.  The culture of learning will inspire responsibility and serious application of brain &/or body power to chosen tasks, whether they be a study of calculus or drawing with crayons or planting tomatoes.

Hey, it’s a fantasy, what can I say.

There would be workshops of all sorts: art studios, music rooms, a stage with back rooms full of costumes, an organic garden and greenhouses, mechanic garage, computer lab, library, kitchen, sewing area, as well as a couple of academic classrooms for people who wanted to focus on headier subjects.  There would be a huge playground and lots of athletic equipment and fields/courts so that kids and adults could run out their wiggles.  

Don’t ask me how we’d pay the electric bill.  I’m not allowed to think about things like that.  Makes me too tense and leads me back to worrying.

I’m only allowed to imagine how the garden would be laid out, where the strawberry patch would go and how many people would be out enjoying green beans right off the vine.  I’m only allowed to envision how tall the shelves would go in the library, and which books we absolutely MUST have and how many window seats we should put in.  I can only wander the hall and see a group of kids giggling and running out to play before lunch while another older group sits on the edges of their seats arguing about which design of recumbent bike would be most efficient, occasionally glancing around in anxious anticipation of the arrival of the resident bike guru who will help them begin construction.

I can enjoy the thought of a meeting of the writing group, a gathering of adults and teens who trust each other enough to share words and ideas and help each other express themselves to the world. I can imagine the ‘zine they would put together and distribute to everyone they know.

And pretty soon I’m asleep.

I wonder if someday I will fall asleep thinking of these things, but instead of being fantasies they will be memories of a dream come true.

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Taking a ride downtown

Let me preface this post by saying, if your community has a police ride-along program, you should RUN not walk to the police station and sign up.  It is must-see tv up close and personal.

I was worried that the officer would find my presence annoying, but he said that he enjoys the company, and by the way he acted, I believed him.  Once I thought about it, who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours impressing the average citizen with computers and lights and incredible acceleration?

Lucky for me nothing too exciting happened.  I’m somewhat of a chicken (which is why I signed up for a Sunday!  If you want action, obviously you’ll want to go for a Friday or Saturday night…) but I got just what I wanted — a backstage pass to hang out with a hero.

My first revelation came when the officer saw a suspicious character and immediately drove TOWARDS him.  My gut instinct is always to run AWAY from trouble screaming like a little girl, and I am seriously shocked and awed by people who are drawn in its direction.  Aren’t we lucky that I am not in law enforcement!!!

My second big eye-opener was to realize how much investigation is involved.  You know how sometimes a patrol car will come up on your tail really fast and you are painfully certain that they are going to pull you over?  Then they disappear?  Several times last night he followed someone and called in their tag, then let them go when he found out it wasn’t who he was looking for.  PHEW!

And this is just one example of the eagle eyes that the officer develops in the line of duty.  Many times throughout the night he would say, “Did you see that?” and I’m looking around wildly into the darkness and then I would finally spot what he saw.  They are constantly scanning for the slightest thing out of place, the smallest sign of suspicious activity, the cars belonging to the people who must have warrants served on them, the faces of wanted people, cars violating traffic laws… etc.  My eyes are only tuned to making sure that traffic is staying where it is supposed to so I can avoid an accident.  For a police officer that is only step one in a long line of visual sorting and decision-making.

I was able to observe how 911 operators are heroes as amazing as the law enforcement out on the street, and the officer gladly acknowledged this.  Within a second he could have the attention of a dispatcher, and his request for information would be responded to within a few more seconds.  They are an efficient and reliable team and I feel very secure knowing that these would be the people working to help me should I ever need it.

Some other random tidbits:

He said that, unlike an episode of “Cops”, police work is 90% boring (paperwork, checking on buildings, driving through neighborhoods, lying in wait for traffic infractions) and 10% exciting.  He says he is an adrenaline junkie so he lives for that 10%.  (I would be avoiding it like the plague!)

He pointed out how people slam on their brakes when they see his car, which actually makes the road more dangerous.  I saw this first hand when he had a difficult time maneuvering through traffic to get to a suspicious car because people began to assume unpredictable speeds as soon as he got close.  Just act cool, people!

He is collecting his evidence and composing his argument to the judge from the first moment he spots a subject or situation.  He has an eye and mind to make sure that a wrong-doer is successfully prosecuted so that the system has the chance to work the way lawmakers intended, and that he, as an officer of the law, does not mess up a single one of the jillion procedures he is supposed to follow, resulting in a criminal getting away with their crime.

And to dispel a final myth: He did not eat a single donut all night.

I cannot express strongly enough how impressed I was with this officer and the department he represents.  I learned a lot and highly recommend the experience to any concerned citizen.

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Driving impaired

A group of us “drove drunk” last night.

At our Citizens Police Academy last night, we got to put on “drunk” goggles, get behind the wheel of a converted golf cart (used as a “metermaid” vehicle in its other life) and attempt to drive through a course of cones set up in the police department parking lot.

We were told that each orange cone represented a child.  I responded that I didn’t want to play that game, so I was going to pretend they were garden gnomes.  The horror of even pretending to run over a child was too much for me to handle.

I chose the easiest goggles, representing your vision if you had a blood alcohol content between .07 and .10 (.08 is the minimum BAC to be guaranteed conviction of DWI in North Carolina) and I could hardly see through them.  Things were blurry and seemed slightly shifted.  I maneuvered the course and grazed three cones.

My husband, thrill seeker that he is, chose the highest BAC, which I think was somewhere around .25.  He actually dragged three cones beneath the cart.  Later I tried those goggles on and tried to walk about three feet to him while he held out his hands for me to grab. It was like looking through a kaleidoscope.  I thought I was grabbing his right hand but when I actually touched his skin, my vision shifted and corrected itself and I was actually grabbing his left.  It was bizarre.

The police department takes these goggles and this obstacle course to the high schools and gets the students to experience what it is like to lose control and “kill” innocent bystanders.  Will it make a difference?  Will it prevent anyone from getting into a vehicle while intoxicated and destroying someone’s child, someone’s mother, someone’s grandfather?

It was a hands-on eye-opener, that is for sure.  I am convinced that we need to go even further to stiffen penalties and implement whatever measures necessary to discourage people from putting their community at risk by driving a loaded weapon while their judgment, vision and reaction time are even slightly impaired. 

This may be an unpopular statement, but I’d like to see the law extended to seriously punish cellphone drivers, make-up putting on drivers, anyone who decides to multitask when their attention needs to be focussed on the serious job at hand.  I decided this when I saw the list of warning signs that police look for when scanning for drunk drivers, which includes: weaving, crossing the center line, turning wide, vacant stare.  I have personally witnessed many of these signs in drivers wielding a cell phone while barreling down the road.  I think you are impaired when your attention is divided, and if it is by something avoidable (you don’t HAVE to answer your phone!) then you are inviting disaster.

We need to take driving much more seriously and we need to somehow force people to give a crap about the people they are endangering when they drive recklessly, whether that is being intoxicated or voluntarily distracted or even just being in too big of a hurry.  

This isn’t cancer or hurricanes, people, where we don’t entirely know how to make it stop.  We as a society have the power to make sure that no one ever again is killed by an impaired driver, simply by choosing, each and every one of us, never again to drive unless we have our wits about us.

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Class update

The two students who showed up were great, but unfortunately they were also at opposite ends of the language experience spectrum.  So I need to split them into two groups… two groups of one!

My problem is I’m a hard worker, a good idea generator, a good teacher, good at communicating in three languages, but I don’t know the first thing about advertising and I really don’t want to have to learn.

Sometimes I resent the fact that I am supposed to handle so many aspects of a situation instead of being able to focus on something.  

But I guess that’s what happens when you strike out on your own.  If you stay on the beaten path then you have some pre-established means of assistance to take care of some of the more mundane, less interesting aspects, like getting the word out.  But when you begin to forge an alternate route, you spend a lot of time trying to reinvent the wheel.

So far, it is worth it to have the freedom and control to do it my own way.

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